NEWTOWN – The school year is not through its first week and already, Council Rock North has had a pair of its top singles players go down with injuries.
The Lady Indians entered Wednesday’s matchup with visiting Central League rival Radnor without the services of junior Dora Zhao, who started the year at No. 3 singles. A little more than halfway through her match with Radnor freshman Kanon Ciarrocchi at No. 2 singles, junior Joanna Kwon had to forfeit the remainder of her match due to some back spasms.
“Both last year and this year, it’s a good group of girls who like each other and support each other and they want to win,” said CR North interim head coach Linda Morrin.
“I try to have them keep it in perspective – their health is more important than the result.”
Additionally, the Rock entered its 2016 campaign without senior Annalise Abraham, who is spending the semester studying in Germany. Abraham was the team’s top singles player last season.
This year, it’s junior Sophia Fischer. The 11th-grader’s talents were on full display vs. the Red Raiders’ top player – senior Grace Hederick. The 12th-grader shook off any jet lag acquired from an early morning flight from St. Louis and topped Fischer 10-5 in a super tiebreaker that gave the visitors a 6-0 triumph in their very first match of the season.
North, meanwhile, sustained its first loss a day after posting its first league win over sister school CR South. The Lady Indians are 3-1, overall, 1-0 in the Suburban One National League.
For her part, Fischer rebounded from a 7-5 loss in the first set to take the second one 7-6 (7-3) in a tiebreaker.
“Towards the end, I thought, ‘I’m not going to give up. I’m not going down without a fight,” said Fischer. “I just focused on every point. I didn’t give her the match in the second set.
“I kept my head and forced it into a tiebreaker.”
Facing CR South’s top player junior Alyssa Skulsky the day before, Fischer forced a third set with a 6-4 win in the second. The 2015 Suburban One National League champion, Skulsky took the third set however, giving the giving the Golden Hawks their only singles win on the day. Meanwhile, Kwon took her match with Vicky Lushnikov in split sets and sophomore Bhavana AmBatipudi won her match with Alexa Enache in straight sets. Together with three of four wins in doubles play, the Indians topped South, 5-2.
AmBatipudi started the year on the first doubles team but moved up upon the injury to Zhao, who is likely going to miss the remainder of the season. AmBatipudi actually tried out for singles play this year and was number four in preseason tryouts.
“She didn’t have to step up but I knew she wanted the singles experience,” explained Morrin. “It’s going to be a learning experience for her; she’s a 10th-grader but I think she’ll do well in that spot.”
Last year as a freshman, AmBatipudi played exhibition and fourth doubles. The sophomore came up huge when she topped Enache 7-5, 7-5 vs. CR South. On this day however, she was topped by Radnor senior Jessica Lin 6-0, 6-0.
After playing doubles in the team’s win over CB West, AmBatipudi lost her first singles match against West Chester Rustin.
“To step up from first doubles and then right into singles, it’s an adjustment for her,” said Morrin. “But she wants it.”
“She went out and worked hard on the weekend and she was determined and full of confidence (against CR South). She got beat up a little today but it’s OK. She’s going to take her bumps and bruises but she’s very positive. She can’t wait for tomorrow.”
In addition to AmBatipudi, the Rock is fortunate to have Fischer on its side. The 11th-grader didn’t play tennis last season after taking a year off from the varsity game.
“It feels really great to be back. I missed the team spirit so it’s really nice,” she explained.
“My goal isn’t to win as much as it is to play my best. I really just want to embrace the team spirit and make a lot of friends.”
Between Abraham studying in Germany and the injury to Zhao, there’s been a lot of shifting in the lineup, especially among doubles partners.
That’s where senior Lauren Thatcher steps in. A field hockey player for the past three seasons, she decided to come out for tennis this year. Teamed up with sophomore Isabel Levine, the duo won their first set vs. CR South 6-0, before dropping the next two 6-3, 6-3.
After dropping her matchup with Radnor’s Claire Burton and Priya Ganesh, Thatcher spent some time talking about the differences between tennis and field hockey.
“I think you need more precise movements in tennis,” said Thatcher. “Field hockey is a lot of running and passing. Tennis is more exact. You have to make sure you hit your ball over the net exactly where you want it or you’ll miss.
“You need every point and that matters in every game. In field hockey, you can always catch up.”
Senior Alex Newman is among those doubles partners who have had to make an adjustment. She and junior Abbie Briskin won their match with CB West and also came through vs. CR South, taking the match with Laney Blatnick and Emily Rosenfeld in straight sets 6-4, 6-4.
According to Newman, the match was closer than the score indicated.
“The points were very long – deuce, add, deuce, add,” explained Newman. “It went back and forth for a while and it took a while for us to win but we fought it out.”
“South is a very competitive team and I think we’re very evenly matched.”
Last year, the Indians finished in a three-way tie for first place with CR South and Pennsbury. This season, Morrin thinks the squad has the talent to win the league outright.
“Our goal is to take it one match at a time and hopefully take the league,” said Morrin. “We beat a tough team yesterday and we still have at least two more tough ones to go.”
Those two tough ones would be Abington and Pennsbury. The Indians face the Galloping Ghosts, which captured the league title in 2013 and 2014, Sept. 7 in enemy territory and must also travel to the Falcons’ home court on Sept. 13.
If the Rock can regain its health heading down the stretch, CR North might even make some noise in the postseason. Last year, the team was stopped by District 1 finalist Conestoga in the opening round of the tournament.
The Indians finish their regular season campaign Sept 27 and 28 at home against non-league rivals Unionville and CB East. Both were District 1 quarterfinalists last year so the Rock should be playoff-tested come time for the postseason.
Contact Steve Sherman at ssherman@21st-Centurymedia.com or @BucksLocalSport on Twitter